This song came on during my flight this morning and this line struck me:
“If the night isn’t dark enough the moon won’t glow.”
It’s Christmas in the airport, a hub of travel traffic, a cross-section of the country (or at least those within the socioeconomic strata that can afford air travel, or even to live away from family), and I am making my way to the East Coast from Colorado. Trading bluebird mountain skies for the rich chill of the Atlantic in December.
Solstice was Wednesday night and so while that marks the official start of winter, it also means that from here on out the days start getting longer again. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the darkness and light of this time of year. It feels like there’s so much emphasis on celebrating and gathering and…consuming (let’s face it, shopping could well be considered the most pervasive coping mechanism we as a culture have developed), in part to make the light all the brighter in the midst of the darkest nights of the year.
But why? What is it about darkness that we try to avoid, try to soften with so much light? Is it the introspection that darkness invites? What do we find in those quiet parts of ourselves that don’t often get our attention during the rest of the year? Why is it only in darkness that we give ourselves permission for that self-exploration? Perhaps it’s security, in that darkness it’s harder to see the parts of ourselves we keep hidden. But, I think it’s more than that. And I think it demands a re-framing of how we interact with darkness. I think there is comfort in the darkness. I think it speaks to the dualities that we embody, a world of both/and rather than either/or. There is room for all of it, for the light and the dark. And at the risk of being cliché, they need one another. Just as any duality that we embody needs one another, darkness and light depend on each other in essence for their very existence. And within us all, there is room for both. The possibility of light makes delving into darkness a little less scary, and the presence of darkness allows for a turn inward – a move towards an inward process of self-exploration – before stepping back out into the light It reminds us of the impermanence and cyclical nature of existence. Darkness gives way to light; light gives way to darkness, and on and on. Every day in fact.
And so with Christmas, my intention going into this week with family and friends is to rest into darkness and marvel at the light, holding gratitude for both. In navigating the tricky territory of grief and allowing myself to move through loss, it feels important to keep a candle burning to help guide me out of the darkness, but not illuminate too much. There are lessons to be learned in the darkness, rich teachings and comfort even to be found in those moments when sight is dulled and instead the perception that comes from feeling must step to the foreground. There are learnings in even the darkest places of ourselves.
Wednesday night, as the snow came down, I stood on my porch marveling at the illumination of the sky. It’s that night sky that gets nearly as bright as daylight when it snows because of the snow reflecting off of the ground light. I stood outside as the moment of Solstice came and went and realized that this was the longest, darkest night of the year, yet here I was able to clearly make out all of my neighbors homes and yards. And it dawned on me, maybe darkness doesn’t always look dark. Perhaps in those places we are expecting to be the darkest, we actually find the most illumination.